Preparing your business for emergencies and disruption (including Coronavirus)

How do you prepare your business for disruptive events that threaten the continuity of your operations? Improving your business resilience doesn’t have to be complicated, nor should it be. The fact you are even thinking about these issues hugely increases your business’ chance of survival.

The world of resilience planning and Business Continuity is full of clever jargon and three letter acronyms that mean well, but often make continuity planning inaccessibly confusing. Basic, straight-forward resilience preparations, flexibility and good management skills can make all the difference.

The key to success is to build resilience into the everyday operations and culture of your organisation; adopting flexible working practices, reinforcing key infrastructure and creating an organisational culture that is adaptable to change. If your approach to business continuity requires complex new systems, processes, technology or language, it’ll be a challenge to use when you need it most.

(I started this article in February 2020, just as the Coronavirus was gaining a foothold in the UK and Europe to share some basic good practice on preparing businesses for disruption).

For more information on business continuity management, organisational resilience and preparing for emergencies, please see other articles:

Keep it simple

Resilience that complements, not duplicates or imposes

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not more so.”

Albert Einstein, 1916

Don’t make resilience complicated, keep it simple and make it work for you. Too often I’ve seen resilience consultants impose new and separate reporting structures, introduce new technical language, sell complex business continuity management IT systems and seek to make organisations act in ways that are alien to them and their cultures.

The most effective approach is to build resilience into your business so that works for the organisation and its culture. Resilience should complement what you do, not duplicate or impose on it. If your organisation has management practices and structures that work for you, stick to them. Use what’s familiar, just support it to adjust to the urgency of an emergency situation. Larger, more complex organisation will need more thorough preparations, so don’t leave it too late.

Preparation is in the planning, not necessarily the plan

The most important element in preparing for emergencies is in the planning – not necessarily the plan itself. Bringing people together, discussing what could happen and how you’d deal with it and practising. The plan is the cherry on top; the value is in initiating the conversation, and then keeping it going.

Get to know your business

Identify your ‘critical functions’ and ‘single points of failure’

Critical functions are the processes that are essential to your business’ continued operation. In simplest terms, if you stopped doing these things your business would go bust. Often, you’ll know what these are immediately. If you don’t, this can be a helpful exercise to streamline your business and help you understand what’s really important to it. Examples may include:

  • paying bills
  • creating a specific product
  • providing a certain expert service
  • communicating via a particular medium, like a website (or blog)
  • maintaining a reputation with specific customers or groups
  • paying your staff

These functions will differ for each business/organisation. When identifying these keep it simple and in general terms; there’s usually alternative ways to deliver these functions (as we’ll come to later). Anything you can stop doing or ‘nice-to-haves’ should be ignored. Ceasing these for a period may have an impact on revenue or reputation, but you’ll still be operating as a business. (I’m currently working for a public sector agency that has identified 5 critical functions that it must continue doing at all times:

  1. providing accurate answers to enquiries from the public
  2. paying grants to community groups and charities on time
  3. maintaining and updating the website and social media every day
  4. ensuring their call-centre remains operational with acceptable waiting times
  5. paying staff on time
Single Point of Failure – either don’t let it break, or build in a Plan-B

Single points of failure – Once you’ve identified your critical functions, think about what and whom you need to make them happen. Mapping these processes in simple flow charts can be helpful.

What you’re looking for is options. If one part of the process stops, is there another way of delivering it? If not, you’ve found a Single Point of FailureIt could be something as simple as a single employee knowing the log-in details for your payment system (useful for security, bad for resilience), to being completely reliant on a single supplier for a key component for a major product.

Once you’ve found your single point(s) of failure, do something about it! Build resilience and redundancy into your system; seek alternatives; share those log-in details! Create your Plan-B even if it’s just in your head. Do something about it!

Just DO IT

Core infrastructure – the backbone of your business

Your core infrastructure is the backbone of your business – such as Facilities, IT, HR, Finance – they touch all parts of your organisation.

If these fail your business will most probably fail unless you can get them back fast enough; so they’re a good place to start if you want to build resilience.

  • People – you, your co-workers, managers, staff. Particularly susceptible to sickness, transport disruption, weather and civil disturbance related incidents
  • Place – the places you work, meet, engage with clients, store your equipment and inventory. Directly susceptible to physical damage (fires, floods), water leaks, lost keys, power failures, criminal activity, or indirectly through anything that denies you access, like police cordons, gas leaks, or just really bad traffic
  • Money – Cash flow – for most, money going out has to equal money coming in, otherwise bills go unpaid, salaries don’t get paid, and debt increases. This concerns outgoing payments as well as incoming revenue from charges and sales. Susceptible to IT failure, cyber-crime, cash-flow, economic crisis
  • Technology can be a double-edged sword; increasing resilience through reducing reliance on other core infrastructure (e.g. enabling flexible working) whilst creating a critical vulnerability that your whole business relies upon. We rely so heavily on technology that if we were to lose it suddenly, the impact would be immediate and catastrophic. Susceptible to loss of facilities, physical damage, infrastructure and utilities failure, human error, cyber-crime/malicious activity… and so much more…
  • Decision making (and communications) – your business’ ability to make decisions quickly and communicate these effectively. Decide who’s in charge! And their back-ups. An emergency is the time you need senior managers to step-up and earn their pay – assessing the situation, problem solving, planning, communicating, implementing, monitoring and driving delivery. Susceptible to personnel loss, human error, technological failure.

Write down what you’ve discovered and what you’ll do in a plan

You’ve gone through so much: delved into the workings of your business, mapped processes, identified risks that you never realised you had, and strategised on how you would deal with different situations, so don’t lose it; write it down.

Make it easy to understand, keep it precise with key actions and pre-made decisions and statements; things you’ll need when everything is going haywire around you. Most of us will rarely have the time to read a detailed emergency plan when an incident is taking place, so keep it short and snappy.

It’ll probably sit in a file somewhere in ‘the cloud’ somewhere until you need it. Make sure you know how to contact your staff, suppliers and key contacts during office hours and out. Don’t create something new if you already have this, as long as you have access to these when you might need them, then that’s fine.

To set you off on the right foot, you can find a free Business Continuity Plan template here.


True resilience cannot be imposed or designed; it’s something that is grown and nurtured within a culture of an organisation. Organisational Resilience is about creating an organisation that can withstand disruptions inherently and is ready to adapt to the needs of the situation, quickly, effectively and efficiently. You can reinforce your core systems, and build in redundancy into critical functions, but to survive and thrive, you’ll need the belief and desire, in exactly the same way as you need it in change management.

Business continuity is about developing plans to deal with difficult situations (Business Continuity Institute, 2020).

Organisational Resilience and Business Continuity are distinct but complementary fields. You can create plans, produce documents and talk-the-talk, but unless you believe in them and have a culture that’s ready to stand up to the challenges, the plans will fail.

There’s plenty more you can do, but if you follow the advice here, you’ll be well on your way.



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